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Oxalis: A great plant indoors and out

Oxalis – often called shamrock – has beautiful foliage and plenty of dainty blossoms. Plus, it's easy to care for indoors and out.

By Betty Earl / March 29, 2010

Charmed Wine oxalis has dark plum-colored foliage with clusters of blush pink, lily-shaped blossoms. It looks awesome in containers.

Courtesy of Proven Winners

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The middle of March is always about shamrocks, those defining symbols of St. Paddy’s Day. Of course, if truth be told, what we here in the US call the shamrock isn’t the same plant as the shamrocks of the Emerald Isle.

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In Ireland, the shamrock is represented by four different clovers, the two principal ones being the hop clover or lesser trefoil (Trifolium dubium) and the white-flowered clover (Trifolium repens). These three-sided clovers have long been part of Irish folklore and are commonly associated with good luck.

The Americanized version, the four-leafed Oxalis tetraphylla (lucky clover), on the other hand, is the nifty clover look-alike usually found in gift shops, grocery stores, and garden centers during the month of March.

The plant has green leaves with dark burgundy markings and pinkish-red blooms that are displayed profusely in spring and early summer, then intermittently for the remainder of the season. Planted out in containers, the effect is awesome.

Oxalis run the gamut from rampaging weeds – Oxalis corniculatam, O. stricta, and O. pes-caprae – that inhabit American lawns and greenhouses to fabulous, (but not hardy in cold climates) rock-garden plants and edgers.

Although most are not hardy enough to remain outside in my Midwest garden, there are a few exceptions, such as the diminutive rose-pink flowered stunner, Oxalis inops (Oxalis depressa) and the short but showy pink-flowered wood sorrel, Oxalis crassipes (strawberry oxalis) – a staple of Southern cottage gardens – which are reliably hardy to Zones 5 and 6.

These bulbous plants have frost-tender cousins that provide dainty flowers in various shades of pink, lavender, purple, yellow, or white and colorful foliage from spring until fall in pots or as summer annuals planted out in the ground.

Most produce mounds of attractive, shamrock-shaped leaflets, four to 12 inches tall, with a profusion of 1- to 2-inch blooms.

The leaves of oxalis can be bright green, deep purple, and maroon, or even interesting combinations of these colors. A few newer introductions sport light chartreuse leaves, as well as green leaves that are dotted, speckled, and splashed with silver.

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